Fake news is a serious problem for social media companies, who are spending a substantial amount every year in order to fight it. Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms out there that is handling sensitive user data. Back in 2016, the company announced its partnership with third-party fact checking organisations that will commence removing fake news from the platform. However, Facebook’s only fact-checking service in the Netherlands, the Dutch newspaper NU.nl, has just called it quits.
NU.nl’s editor-in-chief Gert-Jaap Hoekman announced the company’s decision via a blog post. As per the publication, in May this year, the Dutch politician Esther de Lange wanted to run an ad on Facebook. This ad made unverified claims that 10 percent of farmland in Romania is owned by non-Europeans, however, the fact-checkers couldn’t verify this claim and decided to label it as unsubstantiated.
This is where Facebook stepped in with a new directive that politicians’ speech should not be fact-checked. Hoekman notes, “What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians? Let one thing be clear: we stand behind the content of our fact checks.” The decision taken by Facebook also goes against its own advertising guidelines that don’t allow misinformation in ads.
Changing rules on a whim
While the decision of not fact-checking politicians’ speech goes against its own policies, the company went ahead and announced some additional difficult changes. In October, Facebook officially exempted politicians from being part of its fact-checking program and Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of communications said, “From now on we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.”
As expected, this decision by Facebook was heavily criticised and faced heavy backlash by politicians worldwide. Elizabeth Warren, a prominent Democrat in the US, tweeted,” Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit.” On the other hand, the popular microblogging platform Twitter took another route by announcing the discontinuation of all political ads on the platform.
Facebook’s only fact-checker in the Netherlands exits
Due to the aforementioned reasons and unexpected turn of decisions by Facebook, NU.nl felt increasingly uncomfortable working with the social media platform. Additionally, after Leiden University bowed out from fact-checking, the publication was the sole third-party fact-checking service used by Facebook in the Netherlands.
“We value the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business,” says a Facebook spokesperson, in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We have strong relationships with 55 fact-checking partners around the world who fact-check content in 45 languages, and we plan to continue expanding the program in Europe and hopefully in the Netherlands.”
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